Thursday, October 18, 2007

Dom-Post on the EFB

The following was buried several pages from the front of the Dominion Post this morning:

"Electoral finance revamp looks shaky
By TRACY WATKINS - The Dominion Post Thursday, 18 October 2007

The Government's overhaul of electoral finance laws is looking shaky after a key ally lambasted the legislation as KGB-like.

A rewrite is now under way to salvage the bill, but the latest missive by UnitedFuture leader Peter Dunne suggests the Government is under mounting pressure to incorporate a clamp on anonymous donations if the legislation is to survive.

Writing in yesterday's Dominion Post, Mr Dunne said the bill had major flaws, including the definition of third-party advertisers, which was too wide; the $60,000 cap on the amount that could be spent by third parties on election advertising was too low; and the legislation failed to address the need for more transparency around donations to political parties.

He also called for a look at the rules surrounding official government advertising.

A parliamentary select committee considering the legislation is expected to recommend sweeping changes, which are understood to include significantly loosening the rules and definitions surrounding third-party advertisers and raising the $60,000 cap.

But the select committee is not expected to recommend any change to January 1 as the start date from which political advertising counts toward the statutory limit imposed on election-year spending.

The Government may have to step in with further changes if it wants to keep the Greens and UnitedFuture onside and get the legislation passed before Christmas, in time for the January 1 kickoff for election advertising rules.

Otherwise, it will not have the numbers to pass the bill; only NZ First is looking likely to support it.
The most pressure is expected to come over anonymous donations, with the Greens lobbying heavily to include strict disclosure rules.

Labour had ruled out more transparency without compensatory state funding."


Very interesting! Are the Greens now realising that unconditional support of this obnoxious Bill is going to hurt them next year? Surely, if the Select Committee is going to recommend "sweeping changes" to the draft EFB, there MUST be further opportunities for the public to be consulted or heard. Meanwhile, as I have been typing this, David Farrar has posted about the Human Rights Commission's submission to the Select Committee. Their conclusion, and his, are the same as those that I have just expressed. Here's the link to Kiwiblog, which includes the HRC's press release:

http://www.kiwiblog.co.nz/2007/10/start_over_says_human_rights_commission.html

The tide appears to be turning!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The EFB - Dunne Deal or No Dunne Deal?

There's a very interesting opinion piece on page B5 of this morning's Dominion Post (but invisible on the Stuff website as at the time I blogged on this). Written by Peter Dunne, it is headed "Bill Requires Radical Rewrite". Whilst Dunne acknowledges the need for electoral reform (as pretty much all of us do), he mounts a very strong argument that the EFB, and particularly the third-party restrictions are far too extreme.

When, in his conclusion, Dunne stated that unless the Bill as it currently stand is radically redrafted, Labour risks not having the support to pass it my antennae shot up! The Bill currently sits with the Justice and Electoral Select Committee, and in a question to the Chairperson yesterday, National MP Chris Finlayson got a response from Lynne Pillay that the SC had set aside 4 hours to consider the EFB at its next meeting. Is this where Dunne will make his "power-play"?

At present, Labour, with the support of the Greens and NZ First has the numbers to pass the EFB into law, with or without United Future. However, the balance of power in the Select Committee is different, and a change of heart by Dunne, telegraphed by today's article, could be enough to stop the EFB being referred back to the full House with minimal or cosmetic changes. Certainly, the government could over-ride the Select Committee and push on regardless, but it would be a very risky strategy given the widespread opposition to the Bill. I will certainly be writing to Peter Dunne urging him to use his vote in the Select Committee wisely, to ensure that the "radical rewrite" of the EFB he has written about today takes place. In the meantime, still looking for that link!

UPDATE 1.45pm:

Cheers Anonymous for this link to the article on the United Future site:

http://www.unitedfuture.org.nz/default,300,the_electoral_finance_bill.sm

Monday, October 15, 2007

Did We Lose Our Innocence Today?

No doubt the news will be dominated for the next few days by the Police operation to dismantle an alleged network of Maori, political and environmental activists. Certainly, the claim on 3News tonight that a Napalm bomb was detonated last weekend was alarming.

TV3 News carried extensive coverage of the day's events, which are summarised here (video links included0:

http://www.tv3.co.nz/Policefoilparamilitaryplotnapalmbombtested/tabid/209/articleID/36974/Default.aspx

It's hard to know what to make of this, at this early stage. Clearly, the Police had some very detailed intelligence, and Howard Broad mentioned a number of times during the media conference that it was his call for the Police to act today, which suggests he had some pretty strong reasons.

We hear so much about terrorism these days, but it's almost always on the other side of the globe. I guess that's why the Rainbow Warrior and Bali bombings were so shocking - things like that don't happen very often in this part of the world. It's early days in this investigation - Police are still considering what charges to lay against those arrested - but I certainly have some unease tonight, that there are people in this country prepared to resort to significant violence in order to impose their political or philosophical agenda on us.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Banksie - Straight Down to Work

John Banks has wasted no time in hitting the headlines after ousting Dick Hubbard for the Auckland Mayoralty. The Herald website is reporting that Banks has promised to pulll all ratepayer funding from the Eden Park revamp.

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/section/1/story.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10469776

The Herald reports "Banks is opposed to spending $50 million of city cash on improving Eden Park when the Government has just announced a huge budget surplus and opened the chequebook for $1 billion to build a waterfront stadium last year.

"The Prime Minister has an $8.6 billion surplus. $8.6 billion. And she wants the ratepayers of Auckland to stump up the cash? It's unfair," Banks said. He will, however, support spending $21 million on roading and public transport around the stadium."

Fair enough too! Cullen couldn't get the chequebook out quickly enough when Mallard unveiled his grand plan for the "Duck Dome" last year, even though I believe that Mallard's motives were more about taking the focus of the government's election spending woes than actually building a stadium - and it's not as if the government is strapped for cash, although I'd like to see my share of it as well by way of a tax cut. The government will do very nicely thank you from RWC 2011, so less of a "short arms; deep pockets" attitude wouldn't go amiss.

Friday, October 12, 2007

McCully vs Peters - and Peters vs FIFA

For quite a while now, Friday afternoon has been notable for the arrival of Murray McCully's e-mail newsletter - you can subscribe at http://www.mccully.co.nz/. Politics apart, I enjoy McCully's rather irreverent and self-deprecating writing style, and usually manage a few chuckles. Given that McCully is National's Foreign Affairs spokesman, it was no surprise that today's epistle had quite a bit to say about the "revelation" earlier in the week that Winston Peters' office had in fact received written communications about AirNZ's plans to carry troops bound for Iraq. Here's what McCully has to say:

"Peters Sprung

Having exposed themselves by trying to play cheap politics around Iraq, Government Ministers were livid when news of the Air New Zealand troop charters for the Australian Defence Forces blew up in their faces back in August. The need for a token victim was immediate. Ministers (who had been entirely responsible for creating the Iraq issue) could, of course, not be responsible. Nobody had told them, they maintained. So Foreign Affairs boss Simon Murdoch was wheeled out to accept full responsibility for keeping his Minister in the dark.

This week, papers were finally released by the Government under the Official Information Act (OIA) that made it very clear just who was responsible for keeping Mr Peters in the dark. It was not Mr Murdoch. He and his colleagues at MFAT head office had sent Mr Peters’ office a copy of a Combined Threat Assessment Group (CTAG) report entitled “Air New Zealand Military Charter Flights to Kuwait” on 15 May. The problem was that in the ensuing three months, neither Mr Peters nor any of his staff had actually read it.

All of the above was apparent from paperwork released by the Prime Minister’s Office, under signature of one Heather Simpson, on Tuesday morning of this week. But worse revelations were to come. Mr Peters had still not released his and MFAT’s papers under the OIA. And a bit of gentle goading on Tuesday finally paid dividends.

The MFAT papers revealed that when news of the troop flights and the certainty of serious political embarrassment hit the public arena in mid-August, somebody in Mr Peters’ office started getting worried. Very worried indeed. Because email records show that on 15 August MFAT headquarters delivered to Mr Peters’ office another copy of the very same CTAG report they had delivered three months earlier, carefully marked to make clear where Mr Peters’ office had been on the MFAT distribution list.

How very very strange it was then, that a day later Mr Peters was on his feet in Parliament denying absolutely that his office had received any communications, of any sort from his Ministry on the troop movements. Because by then his office had received both the original CTAG report of 15 May, and a second copy on 15 August – just a day before his Parliamentary denials.

On Tuesday, when papers disclosed only the original CTAG report, Mr Peters explained this discrepancy as being all the fault of the silly Member for East Coast Bays. He had foolishly asked back on August 16 about reports to Mr Peters from his Ministry. And this was a CTAG report, not a report from MFAT. So there!

Imagine the surprise a day later when the released MFAT documents made it clear that it was MFAT, no one else, that had forwarded the CTAG report as part of an internal MFAT distribution list. And worse, a second copy had been personally delivered by an MFAT officer the very day before Mr Peters denied in Parliament ever receiving any communications from his Ministry on the topic.

All of which, ladies and gentlemen, is why the Speaker now has sitting on her desk, a brief letter setting out the facts outlined above. It is a breach of Parliamentary privilege to mislead Parliament. And on the facts as they now appear it is difficult to draw any different conclusion."

But wait! There's more!!

"Remaining Mystery

There is one matter about developments earlier this week that still has the wise analysts at the worldwide headquarters of mccully.co scratching their heads. Governments are routinely in the business of damage control – the Clark Government beyond all others. And that always dictates that bad news is released in one hit, not more. So why, when the Prime Minister’s chief of staff released the incriminating paperwork on Tuesday morning, did Mr Peters’ office not act in concert, instead waiting until he was under pressure to release his OIA material the following day. How very very odd.

Well, the reckoning at the worldwide headquarters is that the Prime Minister’s office, like most of the rest of the world, has been finding dealing with Mr Peters just a little bit challenging in recent times. Intent upon sorting out her remaining political problems, finalising a re-shuffle, and moving forward, it is likely that the PM’s people have been trying to dump the incriminating charter paperwork for weeks. However her Foreign Minister, noted for his extreme grumpiness when his low work rate and non - existent reading habits come in for public scrutiny obviously refused to play ball.

The theory is that, finally this week, Clark’s people had simply had enough and told Peters they were releasing their papers, and he could make his own decisions. Having attempted to bluster his way around the issue unsuccessfully for 24 hours, and being targeted in the media for continuing to withhold them, Peters had no choice but to release the papers. The ultimate lose/lose scenario really.


CTAG

The previously little known Combined Threat Assessment Group was established back in 2004. It comprises senior officials from the Security Intelligence Service, the External Assessments Bureau, Defence and the Police. And Helen Clark at the time described its role as ensuring “that all available streams of intelligence and information are incorporated into assessing terrorist threats, crime in countries being visited by New Zealanders and other potential threats to New Zealand and its interests.”

Now doesn’t that sound like the sort of group, undertaking the sort of work, that might cause a Minister of the Crown, especially a Minister of Foreign Affairs, to actually read their material when it is delivered, and signed for, by his office? Apparently not."


Two things stand out here. Winston Peters sought the leave of the House on Wednesday to make a personal explanation. Leave was granted, but not before several points of order had been heard as to whether a personal explanation or Ministerial statement was the appropriate way to proceed. The gist of the personal explanation was that CTAG wasn't MFAT, so Peters' statement to the House in August that neither he nor his officials had seen reports from MFAT about the flights was correct. McCully's allegations cast this in a very different light, and it is quite possible that Peters has misled the House not once, but again this week.

Secondly, is there any sunstance to McCully's accusations that Helen Clark and those close to her have had a gutsful of Winston, and have hung him out to dry? Is the "marriage of convenience" about to be exposed as a sham? Will it all end in tears? In the meantime, David Farrar blogs about the problems Winston is having with Grey Power, for so long key constituents for NZ First:

http://www.kiwiblog.co.nz/2007/10/its_senior_civil_war.html#comment-351691

With NZ First languishing in the polls, Winston needs this like a hole in the head. Perhaps now, he is ripe for a deluge from the anti-EFB lobby!


Update - 5pm:

Just heard on the radio that NZ Football will be speaking to the government about the $200k they are down the tubes through having had to cancel tomorrow's NZ vs Fiji World Cup qualifier. FIFA has called the game off due to the NZ Government's refusal to issue a visa to the Fijian goalkeeper, who has tenuous links to the Fiji military. Also under threat is New Zealand's hosting of the FIFA U17 Women's World Cup next year.

From the Herald website:

"Oceania Football Confederation general secretary Tai Nicholas said Fifa had expressed disappointment at New Zealand's decision to deny Tamanisau the right to be part of his national team. Fifa considered this to be inconsistent with the worldwide practice of providing visas for visiting sides whose only objective was to play in World Cup qualifiers.


Nicholas said Fifa this morning gave the Government a further opportunity to reconsider its position regarding Tamanisau. However, Fifa had been advised that there had been no change in New Zealand's stance, he said."

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/topic/story.cfm?c_id=117&objectid=10469517

Who has been the spokesman for the NZ Government over this issue. Why, none other than the Rt Hon Winston Peters, Minister of Foreign Affairs!!



Thursday, October 11, 2007

Helen Clark Stoops to a New Low

I'm a bit pressed for time today, so in my haste have reproduced a post which I put up this morning on Kiwiblog. However, I feel very strongly about this, as do others who were commenting last night, so here goes....

Audrey Young blogs about the exchange (at Question Time on Wednesday) in the Herald this morning:

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/feature/story.cfm?c_id=590&objectid=10469114

I went to post a comment, but interestingly, what I got was the following message:

Thank you for your interest in commenting on the story Iraq war : Blog: Distasteful battle (+audio).
Unfortunately, this forum is now closed for comments
.”

What gives Aud? All I wanted to do was alert Herald readers to the most distasteful battle of all that took place yesterday during Q6 - you know, the one where Helen Clark dropped her guard and openly threatened opposition members. May I quote:

“Madam SPEAKER: I accept the point made by the Leader of the House, but I think that in this instance the quote did not meet the test of being unparliamentary. So I ask the Prime Minister to answer the question.
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: For obvious reasons, I seldom agree with Fran O’Sullivan. My job is to act in relation to Cabinet responsibility issues, not to initiate investigations into the actions of members of Parliament. However, if members opposite want to tempt me, there is always the possibility of investigations into Nick Smith’s contempt of court, Gerry Brownlee’s act of assault, or whether Mr Groser still uses cannabis.”

I wonder why Audrey Young:
1) didn’t comment on the PM’s outrageous, Muldoon-like behaviour, and
2) won’t let anyone else comment on it either.

Thank goodness for the blogosphere!

Bottom line - was this just a throwaway line by Dear Leader, or was she seriously suggesting that as PM she could authorise investigations into the conduct of anyone who opposes her? The ramifications of that are, to borrow a word from the Human Rights Commission "chilling" - is this a foretaste of life under the Electoral Finance Act?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

More Criticism of the EFB

Opposition to the Electoral Finance Bill continues to grow, and some of it is from unexpected sources. Student magazines are not generally known as bastions of conservative opinion, so it was surprising to see this article in Victoria University's Salient magazine today.

http://www.salient.org.nz/features/the-devil-is-in-the-details/

The article's authors quite rightly note:

Critics of the Bill say it is ludicrous that organisations like the Sensible Sentencing Trust and the Family First lobby group will not be able to spend more than $60,000 on issues they live and breathe - or $5000 if they don’t register with the state – for up to 11 months before an election. This even includes comments on candidates or the state of MPs’ marriages.

The $5000 and $60,000 limits only apply to third parties, not to political parties themselves. The current limit for party spending is $2.4m in the three months before polling day.

However, government departments are likely to be considered exempt from the Bill. That means that the party in power will be able to exceed the limits set for campaign spending, by advertising pre-existing policies as the internal policy of the department, rather than as a campaign platform. Although there are checks in place to prevent this, such as the office of the Auditor-General, boundaries are occasionally crossed as it is. It would not be unfair to say Labour is introducing legislation designed to favour the incumbent.

Meanwhile, Investigate Magazine will be running a feature story on the EFB in the issue on sale from Sunday. The government will no doubt take not a blind bit of notice, given Investigate's chequered history in matters critical of the government, but nonetheless, it is encouraging to see coverage of this spiteful, insidious piece of legislation getting an airing beyond the beltway and the blogosphere.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Helen Says - Don't Blame the Ref

You'd think Helen Clark would be a bit sheepish after the "Clark Curse" contributed to another high-profile defeat for a New Zealand sporting team. But no - this from the Herald's website this afternoon:

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/event/story.cfm?c_id=522&objectid=10468757

Thank's a million Helen! That's just what New Zealanders needed to hear. The Herald reports that "Asked her opinion on referee Wayne Barnes, Miss Clark said: "I think we would like the All Blacks to have put in a strong enough performance for the refereeing - good or bad - not to have been an issue," she said."

Obviously, there's no prospect of her calling an early election, as Dear Leader has just ostracised every rugby supporter in New Zealand - as well as saying that the All Blacks weren't good enough! Her feigned interest in rugby is frankly insulting.

Talking about the referee, here's comments I made today at a rugby discussion site that I visit from time to time:

"The referee. There's a whole lot of issues here, so I'll touch on them one by one. Firstly, Paddy O'Brien and his IRB advisors should be shot for putting Wayne Barnes up for this game. Twelve tests, 28 years old, does not an experienced test referee make. Secondly, if Peter Thorburn's comments on RadioSport this morning are correct, Paddy O'Brien and his IRB advisors should be shot. We are now hearing that touch judges were forbidden from assisting the referees in this RWC apart from decision on line of touch and foul play. To put a guy of Barnes' relative inexperience into a game of this magnitude, where he couldn't draw from the experience of his touchies, was a recipe for disaster. This is especially so when you consider the relience that referees now have on their touchjudges. To suddenly have to go back to the "good old days" when the referee was truly the "sole judge of fact and of law" would be a shock to the system, even to an experienced referee. You could argue strongly that Barnes was set up to fail.

Barnes had a poor game, especially during the second half. Given the AB's possession advantage, it beggars belief that the French were not penalised a single time in the second half. It's even worse when you look at the persistent infringing by the French - players lying over the ball, entering from the side, fringeing offside and using hands - however, they got away with it, and good luck to them. I'm prepared to cut Barnes some slack over the forward pass, knowing now that the touchies couldn't help him - the pace of the break-out left him in a position from which he could not fairly adjudicate. However the decision to sin-bin McAlister was at best questionable, and in my opinion as a former referee, too harsh.

The IRB's appointment process must also be called into question. If Kaplan, Walsh, Honnis and Rolland are considered to be the four best referees at the tounament (having been appointed to the semis, 3/4 place and final respectively), why was only Rolland appointed to a quarter-final? Surely, when you get to the pointy end of the tournament, the best referees should be doing all the games. Are the appointments for the last two weeks an admission by the IRB that they got the quarter-final appointments wrong, or were the quarter-final appointments merely consolation prizes? If it was the latter, the IRB should hang their collective heads in shame."

Sorry if this upsets you Helen, but we are still allowed to express opinions - you haven't yet passed the EFB! Kill the Bill!!!

Monday, October 8, 2007

Sentencing - Whose Rights are Paramount?

As we are all aware, former Rotorua Police supremo John Dewar was sent to the pokey for four and a half years on Friday - although he will in all probability be out in less than two years. When the sentencing was first passed, I though it was a pretty "fair cop", if you'll pardon the pun. However, articles I've read over the weekend have caused me to revisit that.

Firstly, the Herald carried a story on Saturday that "Rogue cop John Dewar has been given a discounted prison sentence after a judge accepted he would suffer "additional hardship" in prison as a former high-ranking officer." The story went on to say that the sentencing Judge, Judge Rodney Hansen had said "the "additional hardship in prison" was one reason for him reducing Dewar's sentence from six years." Hello! If the offending merited a sentence of six years, then six years it should be!

As if that wasn't bad enough, today's Herald carries this story:

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/section/1/story.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10468468

Chief High Court Judge Tony Randerson has gone public on the issue, saying "the reduced sentence took into account a "series of factors" that related to Dewar's personal circumstances." The article then further reports "In his sentencing, Judge Rodney Hansen said mitigating factors were that it was a first offence, public vilification and humiliation were a harsh penalty in themselves, and the disruption to Dewar's career and the financial setback would be difficult to recover from at Dewar's stage in life." Hello again!! Who is responsibility for the "disruption to John Dewar's career"? John Dewar - no-one else. Who is responsible for the "financial setback"? John Dewar - no-one else. And that is the same John Dewar who "PERF'd" from the Police with a significant sum of money (the Herald says $250k plus), which should have set him up for life.

Interestingly, Dewar continues to proclaim his innocence:

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/category/story.cfm?c_id=30&objectid=10468369&pnum=0

Judge Hansen noted at sentencing that Dewar had "a remarkable capacity for self-delusion and avoidance", before knocking 18 months off the starting point for mitigating circumstances. Sorry, but when a high-ranking Police officer offends in this manner, mitigating circumstances should go out the window. Dewar will now in all likelihood join Schollum and Shipton in the relative safety of Te Moenga, a unit for sex offenders, really bad sex offenders, at Kaitoke Prison on the outskirts of Wanganui - also a refuge for witness protection scheme prisoners, and convicted ex-policemen. It is unlikely that he will spend any time amongst the general prison population - where he would REALLY experience "additional hardship".

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Australia gooooooooone! All Blacks follow

Bugger cobber! My deepest, heartfelt sympathies to all my Australian friends this morning after they were knocked out of the RWC by Mother England.

More on this, and the All Blacks, later today. I was hoping to be able to gloat about a famous New Zealand victory, but someone forgot to tell the French that this was the unwinnable match

Oh, and by the way "Four more years George"!!! And Richie, and Dan and..........

Some things don't change however - Kill the Bill! And was it a coincidence that we lost the match that Helen Clark turned up to?

Update - Sunday night: I'm still a little in shock from this morning's events, so some reasoned analysis will have to wait until tomorrow. To France the spoils, to the All Blacks, the "consolation prize" of a longer-than-expected summer holiday! I guess if you take all the teams on our side of the draw, the French are the ones who I least dislike losing to. I just hope that for all our sakes, they can repeat the dose against the English next week - at least the All Blacks scored tries!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Matthew Hooten on the EFB

Half Done has posted Mathew Hooten's EFB submission to the Select Committee - here's the link:

http://halfdone.wordpress.com/2007/10/01/matthew-hootons-submission/#comment-6889

Not surprisingly, Hooten joins the chorus of opposition to this insidious piece of legislation. He draws comparisons between the spending limits proposed under the Bill and the spending by the anti-tour movement in 1981. This further underlines just how penal the EFB, if enacted in its draft form, will be to opponents of the government in election year.

The Select Committee has heard the last of the public submissions on the Bill, and now has the task of trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. The government will want quick progress, as to take effect on 1 January 2008, the EFB must be passed into law before Parliament rises for the Christmas break - an interesting analogy there - it appears that the government's gift to us the Christmas will reflect the spirit of Ebenezer Scrooge rather than the true "reason for the season" - an unconditional, grace-filled gift. Thanks a bunch Labour!